State Report: Mississippi

Untraditional sources produce strong group of players




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THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
Rating compares this year's group to what a state typically produces, not to other states
In most years, Mississippi and Mississippi State provide the state with its best baseball and its best talent. In 2011, that was not the case.

Southern Mississippi was clearly the best college team in the state most of the season, while Ole Miss didn't even make it to regional play and Mississippi State sneaked in as one of the last at-large teams. The Golden Eagles led Conference USA much of the season before a pair of late suspensions to starting pitchers helped dim their prospects.

Similarly, while Ole Miss has draft prospects in bulk, it doesn't have a likely player for the first three rounds, after producing 11 such players dating back to 2004. Instead, the state's high school ranks look to be quite productive. Teams had significant interest in hitters such as Connor Barron, Senquez Golson and Mason Robbins, as well as righthanders Hawtin Buchanan and Brandon Woodruff.

That's despite a spotty history for Mississippi players who sign straight out of high school. The last player who signed out of a Mississippi high school to reach the major leagues was Big Walter Young, a 1999 draftee of the Pirates who got a 33 at-bat cup of coffee in 2005 with the Orioles. The last pitcher was Jermaine Van Buren, a 1998 second-rounder of the Rockies who had cups of coffee in 2005-2006. The lone active big leaguer drafted out of a Magnolia State high school is Astros veteran infielder Bill Hall, drafted way back in 1998.

In that draft, Hall was the fifth of five Mississippi prep players drafted with a single-digit pick, and this appears to be the strongest year in the state since then.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. B.A. Vollmuth, 3b, Southern Mississippi (National Rank: 63)
2. Connor Barron, ss, Sumrall HS (National Rank: 82)
3. Senquez Golson, of, Pascagoula HS (National Rank: 107)
4. Hawtin Buchanan, rhp, Biloxi HS (National Rank: 137)
5. David Goforth, rhp, Mississippi (National Rank: 177)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

6. Brandon Woodruff, rhp, Wheeler HS
7. Mason Robbins, of, George County HS, Lucedale
8. Cody Livingston, lhp, Northwest Rankin HS, Brandon
9. Devin Jones, rhp, Mississippi State
10. Austin Wright, lhp, Mississippi
11. Matt Crouse, lhp, Mississippi
12. Josh Laxer, rhp, Madison Central HS, Madison
13. Nick Routt, lhp, Mississippi State
14. Tyler Koelling, of, Southern Mississippi
15. Matt Tracy, lhp, Mississippi
16. Nick Vickerson, of, Mississippi State
17. Brett Huber, rhp, Mississippi
18. Todd McInnis, rhp, Southern Mississippi
19. Miles Hamblin, c, Mississippi
20. Andrew Pierce, lhp, Jones County JC
21. Quintavious Drains, rhp, Jackson State
22. Jacob Lindgren, lhp, St. Stanislaus HS, Kiln
23. Marc Bourgeois, of, Southern Mississippi
24. Jaron Shepherd, of, Mississippi State
25. Charles Epperson, of, Jackson State
26. Travious Relaford, ss, Hinds CC
27. Colin Cargill, rhp, Southern Mississippi
28. Taylor Hightower, c, Mississippi
29. Brett Blaise, lhp, Belhaven
30. Steve Easter, rhp, Alcorn State
31. Chase Reeves, of, Hamilton HS, Caledonia
32. Eduardo Gonzales, 1b, Alcorn State
33. Matt Snyder, 1b, Mississippi
34. Carl Brice, rhp, Callaway HS, Jackson
35. Kilby Perdomo, of/dh, Alcorn State
36. Jake Morgan, rhp, Mississippi
37. Matt Smith, of/1b, Mississippi
38. Luke Lowery, lhp, Sumrall HS
39. Michael Niemann, of, Delta State
40. Jarrad Parks, 3b, Mississippi State

SCOUTING REPORTS

B.A. Vollmuth, 3b/ss
Southern Miss

Vollmuth hit all of three home runs as a high school senior, so Southern Mississippi coaches were surprised when he stepped in as a freshman for injured team leader Brian Dozier and hit eight home runs in just 97 at-bats. He helped lead the Golden Eagles to their first College World Series bid, then bashed 20 homers as a sophomore. Vollmuth has battled the new bats and a hip injury in 2011, and moved off shortstop to the less-demanding third base. At 6-foot-4 and a listed 200 pounds, he may wind up outgrowing third and moving to a corner outfield spot—or first base if his below-average speed further deteriorates. With an accurate, above-average arm, that would waste of one of his better tools. Vollmuth still has looseness in his swing, and he has tremendous leverage. He's always going to swing and miss, but instincts and savvy have helped him improve his hitting ability over his college career. He has toned down an exaggerated leg kick, and while he remains streaky, he has gained consistency.

Connor Barron, ss
Sumrall HS

Barron helped lead Sumrall to a 67-game winning streak that ended last year and moved from third base to shortstop this spring. He helped the team to its fourth straight state 3A title and batted .490 with eight home runs  He has matured physically as a senior, going from 6 feet, 170 pounds to 6-foot-3, 195 pounds now. He has remained an above-average runner, and he has the arm strength for shortstop. Throw in his fluid lefthanded swing, and Barron has gone from a solid local follow to a genuine pop-up guy who is making Southern Mississippi sweat. He would replace B.A. Vollmuth as the Golden Eagles' shortstop next season, if he makes it to school. Evaluators compare him to Rays big leaguer Reid Brignac, who was a second-round pick in 2004, and Barron now could go close to that range. He has shown surprising raw power, and scouts believe in his knack for hitting as well as above-average athleticism.

Senquez Golson, of
Pascagoula HS

Golson plays at the alma mater of Terrell Buckley, a former NFL defensive back who also played outfield at Florida State, and Buckley has worked with him throughout his high school career. Golson is also a two-sport athlete and has a football scholarship to Mississippi. Golson is an electric athlete with plus-plus speed (4.0 seconds flat to first base), present strength, broad shoulders and physical ability to burn. Apart from his athleticism, his best tool is his bat. He generates tremendous bat speed and has a short, compact swing in his 6-foot frame. With more experience, he could generate above-average power. He's raw but no more than other high school hitters, and scouts praise his high school coaches for helping polish Golson's game. Mississippi plans on having him play center field, and he has average arm strength. That said, football has been his primary sport, and he doesn't have a lot of experience against top pitching. He didn't fare well against Mississippi's top prep pitcher, Hawtin Buchanan, a fellow Ole Miss signee. Rebels football coach Houston Nutt has talked up Golson in the spring, saying he'll start at cornerback in the fall, and Golson's signability ultimately will determine where he goes in the draft.

Hawtin Buchanan, rhp
Biloxi HS

Scouts flocked to Mississippi for a deep pool of high school talent this year, and the towering Buchanan seemed to be at his best when the heat was on. At 6-foot-8, he's athletic enough to have played quarterback in the fall, and he has room to fill out even though he's a listed 230 pounds. He repeats his delivery well for a prep pitcher of his size, and one evaluator called him the "definition of a big-body power arm." He elicits comparisons to former Ole Miss righthander Cody Satterwhite, who was similarly physical, but Buchanan may throw harder more consistently. After sitting 86-91 mph early in the spring, he was hitting more 93s as the season went along. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, and he hasn't shown much of a feel for his loopy, slow curveball. Some scouts are concerned about Buchanan's arm action in the back, as his elbow tends to get inverted, much as Stephen Strasburg's more celebrated arm does. Buchanan was at his best against the likes of Senquez Golson and Mason Robbins, two of Mississippi's top prep hitters. He's an Ole Miss legacy who is considered a tough sign.

David Goforth, rhp
Mississippi

Goforth showed mid-90s velocity and thrived in a set-up role as a freshman in 2009, striking out 36 in 35 innings. He was a draft-eligible sophomore last season and imploded when he moved into a part-time starting role, with an 8.41 ERA. He couldn't throw his secondary pitches for strikes, but remedied that in 2011 when he added a cut fastball. Goforth's four-seamer still has plenty of giddy-up, at times reaching 97 mph even when he starts. He can throw strikes with the cutter, which sits 88-92 mph and gives him a power pitch with life. His four-seam fastball tends to flatten out. He still throws a curveball and changeup on occasion, but his approach is mostly to overpower hitters. He's thrown a lot more strikes this year thanks in large part to the cutter, and should be able to pitch mostly off his fastball and cutter as a pro reliever. A 31st-round pick a year ago, Goforth should go out in the fifth-round range this season.

Prep Power

It wouldn't surprise area scouts if someone jumped up and drafted outfielder Mason Robbins or hard-throwing Brandon Woodruff in the first five rounds. Robbins is part of Southern Miss' excellent recruiting class and has a smooth, balanced lefthanded swing to go with a polished approach. He's a lefthanded thrower as well, and he'll be a two-way player if he makes it to Hattiesburg. He's an average runner who profiles as a center fielder in college, but pro scouts see him more as a corner bat. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, he's maxed out physically, so deciding whether he has enough power to profile there is the key for scouts and the crosscheckers who were rushing in to see Robbins in May. He hit just three home runs in 2010, but finished second in the home run derby at the Under Armour game in Chicago last summer and led the state with 14 homers this spring.

Woodruff is perhaps Mississippi State's most important recruit as a raw power arm. He has a fluid arm action and pro body at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and he's a good athlete who also played basketball, leading to a late start to his baseball season. He had three straight double-digit strikeout starts in March and April, when he flashed a 94 mph fastball and showed the ability to spin a power curveball. He's working on a changeup as his third pitch. Woodruff had pitched about 30 innings all spring, and some scouts consider him more typical of the raw Mississippi talent that has washed out in the past. His mechanics are inconsistent, and he hasn't faced great high school competition, though he has had some showcase exposure, including a spot in last year's Under Armour game. Most teams will consider him more of a summer follow than a first five rounds pick.

In many years, Mississippi signee Josh Laxer would have been the top prep pitcher in the state. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he pounds the strike zone with quality stuff, touching the low 90s and sitting around 88-89 mph with a fastball that has good armside life and sink at times. He spots his slurvy breaking ball well and knows how to pitch. His lack of physicality may make college ball a better fit.

Lefthander Cody Livingston rebounded from a poor summer to have a big spring, pushing 90 mph with his fastball that's more notable for its life than its velocity. A 6-foot-2, 195-pound Southern Miss signee, Livingston is a two-way talent whose pitching star rose as his velocity improved. A solid-average changeup with good life is his best secondary pitch. He's also a right fielder with some pop.

College Contributions

Austin Wright has teased scouts for years as a first baseman/lefthander and was a 23rd-round pick twice—in 2008, out of an Illinois high school by the Pirates, and last year, by the Red Sox out of Chipola (Fla.) JC. He has never quite fulfilled his promise, but he's still likely to be drafted in the first 10 rounds because of his size (6-foot-4, 234 pounds) and his fastball, which at times sits in the low 90s, touching 94. His curveball gives him another average pitch to attack hitters. He threw more strikes this season than he had in junior college, but they weren't always quality strikes, and SEC hitters batted .293 against him.

Lefthander Matt Crouse has a better feel for pitching and wound up as Ole Miss' most consistent starter, going 7-4, 3.41 in 90 innings. He throws strikes with an 88-91 mph fastball and pitches off his heater, commanding it, cutting it and running it to both sides of the plate. His crossfire delivery gives him deception, and his ability to add and subtract off his heater helps his fringy changeup and curveball play up.

Mississippi had plenty of physical, veteran hitters who didn't produce as expected. Catcher Miles Hamblin, a former star at Howard (Texas) JC, struggled offensively in the SEC, hitting .259/.378/.430 this season after batting .226 a year ago. He has plus raw power from the left side and good arm strength. Big and physical, he doesn't move well behind the plate and struggled to control the running game. Suffice it to say he didn't live up to expectations after being ranked as the top college player in Texas in the 2009 draft class. If he's drafted this year, it will mark his first time being picked.

Six-foot-6 giant Matt Snyder also was well regarded when he entered Ole Miss and wound up as the team's leading home run hitter with nine this season. He's better suited for DH duty or first base. Redshirt senior Matt Smith, 23, could sign before the draft but had a career-low seven homers this season.

Righthander Devin Jones was Mississippi State's top prospect and entered the season with a chance to go in the first four to five rounds, but he wasn't able to hold down a spot in an injury-depleted Bulldogs rotation and missed time with a bout of food poisoning. He still has big stuff, with a live arm, pro body at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, and a fastball that hits 95 mph in relief. He also has a power slider that has scraped 86 mph. Veteran scouts aren't enamored with Jones' lack of consistency, but his raw stuff could still make him a single-digit selection.

Mississippi State's other intriguing player was lefty Nick Routt, whose screwball changeup won Best Changeup honors in BA's Best Tools survey of SEC coaches the last two seasons. Routt missed part of the year recovering from surgery last year on his ulnar nerve, and was not throwing his changeup this season in order to reduce the stress on his arm. His fastball was in the 87-91 mph range, and scouts were waiting to see if he'd go back to his old bread-and-butter pitch—and if his arm could handle it.

Southern Mississippi had several players who should be drafted in the later rounds, including a pair of redshirt senior righthanders. Todd McInnis has been the team's ace for three seasons and a member of the rotation for almost five, having received a redshirt after five 2007 starts. He is what he is: a 6-foot-1, 160-pounder who has durability questions and lacks a plus pitch. He commands his fringy fastball and has a good feel for his solid-average curveball. The Golden Eagles also have yet another submarine closer, a signature for the program that produced Chad Bradford. Senior Colin Cargill isn't quite a knuckle-scraper like Bradford but gets plenty of sink on his mid-80s fastball and has used his slider more this season, making him tougher on lefthanded hitters. He's tough to elevate and has given up just 24 runs in 51 appearances the last two seasons.

More likely to go out early were senior outfielders Tyler Koelling, a 6-foot, 190-pounder, and Marc Bourgeois, a Quebec native. Bourgeois is more physical, showing more power and patience, and hits lefthanded, Koelling is more athletic, an average runner and solid defender with gap power and a grinder mindset. Koelling, who had just nine strikeouts heading into regional play, has a fourth-outfielder profile with the exception of his righthanded bat. Despite not having a great profile, he was expected to be the second Golden Eagle drafted, after Vollmuth.

Jackson State ace Quintavious Drains has a loose arm, and the 2010 Southwestern Athletic Conference pitcher of the year has hit the low 90s in the past. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder has been worked hard the last two seasons, however, compiling more than 210 innings, and his fastball has been sitting in the upper 80s this spring. Senior righty Terrance Washington has a similar body of work, similar workload and good velocity despite inefficient pitching mechanics. Teammate Charles Epperson, a corner outfielder with present strength at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, should go out earlier thanks to average speed and arm strength. He's raw and an eligible sophomore.

The state's often-productive junior college ranks didn't have much depth this year. The top players are stringbean Andrew Pierce, a Southern Miss signee who touched 92 mph, pitches in the upper 80s and flashed a hard slider with plus potential, and shortstop Travious Relaford, a cousin of ex-big leaguer Desi Relaford. Travious hit just .280 for Hines this spring with seven extra-base hits and remains raw in all phase offensively. Defensively, he has the athleticism and arm strength for shortstop, though his skills need refinement.